13 July 2017 

The PEN community are deeply saddened to hear of Liu Xiaobo’s death today.

Liu Xiaobo, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, writer, literary critic and human rights activist spent the last eight years of his life in Jinzhou prison in northeast China, with little or no access to friends, family or colleagues. A former president of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre (ICPC) and an active PEN member, Liu was arrested in December 2009 and charged with ‘inciting subversion of state power’, with a sentence of 11 years in prison.

His wife – the poet and photographer Liu Xia – was only allowed to visit him once a month under the supervision of prison guards. They would be forced to change the subject if they spoke about anything deemed offensive to the state. Liu Xia herself spent almost the entire duration of her husband’s detention under house arrest, held without charge.

Despite this harsh and unjust treatment, Liu Xiaobo’s continuing message to the outside world was one of peace, hope, and love. His poetry – written from within prison – spoke of his love for his wife and his hope for a China free from discrimination and human rights abuses. He used imagery rooted in nature and transformation, and his verse was rhythmic and lyrical.

At the December 2010 Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony in Oslo, Liu Xiaobo’s medal and diploma were presented to an empty chair. It is a huge sadness to all of us who knew or were influenced by Liu Xiaobo – his resilient activism, his commitment to justice, his optimism and peaceful heart – that he will never have the opportunity to be recognised in person for all that he has done in the service of others. His empty chair was and remains a deep injustice, but just as he was remembered whilst locked behind bars, he will be remembered by us forever.

As well as sending our thoughts and love to Liu Xiaobo’s family, we are calling on the authorities to grant complete freedom of movement to his wife Liu Xia at this difficult time and going forward.

Below, please find statements from PEN President Jennifer Clement, Executive Director Carles Torner, UK Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, and Salil Tripathi Chair of PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee.

‘On this sad day I remember the 2010 image of the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Thorbjoern Jagland, sitting beside Liu Xiaobo’s medal and diploma on an empty chair – PEN’s symbol for imprisoned writers.  On that day the world honoured and celebrated Liu Xiaobo’s courage as it does again today. Liu once said, ‘I hope I will be the last victim in China’s long record of treating words as crimes’.  We must continue to uphold his dream.’


– Jennifer Clement, PEN President


‘Jan Patocka wrote that, ‘the real test of a man is not how well he plays the role he has invented for himself, but how well he plays the role that destiny assigned to him.’ Patocka drafted and signed with Havel the Charter 77 and died after a marathon interrogation by Czech Police; he remains the symbol of freedom for Czechs. Dear Liu Xiaobo, dear PEN colleague, you have died today because of the treatment imposed on you by Chinese authorities after you signed the Charter 2008. Your PEN friends around the world will praise your destiny and your commitment, we will praise you every single day until China will be free.’


– Carles Torner, PEN Executive Director


‘In one of your poems, you write of the ‘cold and indifferent moon’. The same sky with this moon in it reaches over all of us, over you and me, over my freedom and your oppression. What we have in common is as various as our differences, but one of thing we share is our belief in the power of writing to challenge those things that limit, oppress, destroy, and deny. I am sorry that you have experienced this denial, this oppression so directly, but I want you to know that – whilst your punishment has attempted to reduce you – in my eyes you are magnified inside your work, your power, your courage, and your love. Thank you for everything you have done in your fight for a better world’


– Carol Ann Duffy, UK Poet Laureate


‘China's callous treatment of political prisoners and dissidents reached lower depths today with the tragic passing of Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo. Liu, a writer, poet, and democracy campaigner, had committee no crime - he wanted the Chinese Government to respect the dignity of Chinese people and uphold their human rights. But his words threatened the authoritarian regime which attempted to silence him by jailing him. His words will resonate and will continue to inspire millions of people in China and beyond, and he will be remembered long after the unelected men temporarily in power are forgotten and, as Liu dreamed and fought for, China will become a democracy.’



– Salil Tripathi, PEN International Writers in Prison Committee Chair 




Liu Xiaobo overleden


Schrijver en Nobelprijswinnaar Liu Xiaobo is overleden aan verwaarloosde, terminale leverkanker. Ook na aandringen van een reeks Westerse landen en schrijvers uit de hele wereld mocht hij van de Chinese autoriteiten niet medisch worden behandeld in het buitenland. Zijn vrouw Liu Xia mocht niet over zijn ziekte en gebrek aan medische zorg spreken en stond onder huisarrest.

Het is ook na Liu’s dood noodzakelijk te blijven herhalen wat de laatste weken al vaak is gezegd: Liu Xiaobo was een mensenrechtenactivist zonder vrees, een schrijver die onder de moeilijkste omstandigheden geweldloos bleef strijden voor democratie in China. Hij liet in 1989 een baan als gastdocent aan Columbia University in de steek om de protesterende studenten op het Tiananmenplein te kunnen steunen. Hij heeft daar levens gered toen daar honderden studenten werden doodgeschoten, door voor de laatst overgeblevenen een veilige doorgang te bepleiten bij het leger. Hij was initiatiefnemer van de petitie Charter 08 tegen censuur en voor democratie in China. Hij ontving de Nobelprijs voor de Vrede 2010 voor zijn inspanningen maar mocht die niet in ontvangst nemen, want hij zat in de gevangenis, tot elf jaar cel veroordeeld voor zijn activisme.

 Aan zijn vrouw Liu Xia schreef hij: ‘Ik zit mijn veroordeling uit in een tastbare gevangenis, terwijl jij in de ontastbare gevangenis van het hart op mij wacht. Jouw liefde is het zonlicht dat over de hoge muren springt en de ijzeren tralies van mijn gevangenisraam doordringt, iedere millimeter van mijn huid streelt, iedere cel van mijn lichaam verwarmt en maakt dat ik altijd vrede, openheid en helderheid in mijn hart bewaar en iedere minuut in de gevangenis betekenis krijgt.’

Liu Xia zei: ‘Als iemand in de gevangenis belandt komt er ook een eind aan het familieleven.’

Ook haar gezondheid is zwak. Alle PEN-centra zullen haar blijven steunen, en zich ervoor inzetten dat haar huisarrest wordt opgeheven.


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